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Smiling cartoon baby boys.  Multinational baby portrait. Multi-ethnic set of four babies. Different nationalities. Vector illustration for banner or package.

The infants above typify the two most important factors present in all of us at birth:

  • Constant Change, and
  • Enormous Potential

Change is these infants’ reality. They have no choice but to accept change because all of us are all permanently in the process of becoming something new. And the younger we are the more rapid and obvious changes are. Heraclitus was right, “The only constant in life is change.

Without exception we are born with enormous potential. Our beginnings are far from humble and helpless, since mysteriously we are born knowing how to actualize our potential beginning with mimicry. As we grow we rely less-and-less on others to grow and change. This birthright, this instinctive gift of knowing how to not just survive outside the womb but to adapt to life has been called agency.

These two factors must be paramount in the mind of anyone who teaches children since they affect both your child’s tangible body and their intangible mind.

The only thing we can do about bodily changes is to manage their effects; something we are getting better and better at as scientific discoveries accelerate at unprecedented rates.

The mind is a different matter since at least in part it is not matter. Consequently science has not made much progress understanding it. Along with everyone else I don’t know anything about the boundary between the brain – an organ – and the inorganic mind. But it does seem obvious that while the brain is confined to the body the mind is not. I know my mind extends into those realms outside of my waterproof bag of skin, and can even peer into yours. And I can even conduct experiments through thought.

It seems equally obvious that the inorganic mind, supported somehow by the organic brain, is where conscious thinking happens. And where else would those primal urges that trigger the changes necessary for us to move from potential to actualization reside?

All we know, and perhaps all we can ever know, about the mind is through observation of those things that happen to us that cannot be explained by our physical bodies. Simply being human means our mind can observe consciousness in ourselves and in others. And put it to use.

That being said, this article is concerned with the enigma that somehow we know from birth how to actualize our potential. And how miraculously newborns go about doing just that immediately upon arrival.

Tabula Rasa is translated as ‘Blank Slate.’ The either/or debate as to whether a child is born with a mind that is a blank slate or whether the child has innate knowledge at birth has riled up philosophers – especially those concerned with epistemology – since the ancient Greeks. It seems to me that both claims are accurate and non-contradictory. Let me explain.

“Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses.” That’s Aquinas channeling Aristotle. What these two giants are saying is that we use our senses to gain experience – data input in today’s parlance. That seems logical.

Descartes writes, “Innate (skills or abilities) are effectively present from birth and while they may not reveal themselves then, are more than likely to present themselves later in life.” In other words we are born with a baked-in capacity to process that data into useful knowledge; initially and continually through imitation. That also seemed logical to the ancients; the word education comes from the Latin word educare. which means to draw-out. And of course Socrates and others after him firmly believed that education should be all about lighting the lamp not filling it.

As an example, a newborn has clearly never experienced weather. However, their senses will soon be stimulated by the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and even a tactile sense of the elements, and soon a rudimentary picture of the weather will begin building in their intellect. To build this picture the infant must be using both its sensory experiences and its native processing power.

So, we are born with two capacities: We can acquire data through our sensors and we can process that data with our data-processing engine. These are the two capacities that help us manage change and ignite our potential. From the appearance of the first modern humans 200,000 years ago – at a minimum – we have used them to manipulate our environment.

How do these skills, capacities or talents manifest themselves in all humans from a very young age? By –

  • Playing games
  • Asking questions
  • Telling stories
  • Remembering facts and patterns

Of course without the ability to create symbolic mental representations of the world around us processing the data about the things we see, hear, smell, taste and touch is more instinctive or animal-like, and less about reasoning. The more humans learned language – symbolic representations – the more sophisticated became the games, the questions, the stories and the recall of facts. It is obvious to any parent or teacher that infants begin to learn how to survive and prosper by playing games, asking questions and telling stories and remembering facts and beginning to recognize patterns. And the more they understand language the better they become at learning. 

WE ARE HYBRID LEARNERS.

Once our family environment satisfies our basic needs for safety, belonging, nourishment and shelter we all will begin to explore. In Maslow’s words we begin to discover “self-esteem” and then to “self-actualize.” Again we employ the same tactics – game-playing, questioning, storytelling, remembering facts and recognizing patterns – to do this.

We are rational animals too. We pursue knowledge for its own sake. We do this by finding out what is true and what is false and what is an opinion. Even from a very young age we somehow know that we need to do this for our own self-preservation and adaptation. Again we employ game playing, questioning, storytelling and remembering facts and recognizing patterns to act rationally.

We are also a very collaborative species. Experiments have shown that this extends to helping others without there being any benefit to us as individuals. And this sense of fairness begins young. Very small children, without prompting, selflessly stop doing something they enjoy to help others. Even if an experiment is unfairly rigged so that one child receives more rewards, they will ensure the reward is fairly split. Our advanced team-working instincts probably reflects our evolutionary understanding that a team working together, to gather food for example, with each contributing their specialized skills, is best for survival and adaptation. We have developed a hive mind: a fundamental urge to link our minds into larger networks of collective knowledge – our accumulated patrimony – to pass along to new generations. We have even developed mind-reading skills which helps collaboration. Aristotle noted that we can guess what another is feeling or thinking, and mostly get it right. All this probably explains the meteoric rise of Social Media. Again we employ game playing, questioning, storytelling and remembering facts and recognizing patterns to do all this collaborating.

Who doesn’t love to tell or listen to stories? We all tell stories, we dream, we imagine things about ourselves and others. We spend a great deal of time thinking about the future and analyzing the past. And a lot, probably the majority, of this is done through stories. The best movies, commercials, songs and literature, even the news, and business reports are all stories. Their themes are timeless; and all are about the human experience, which endlessly fascinates us all. Stories are a game played between the teller and the told. They depend on raising and possibly answering questions. And definitely rely on patterns of behavior. Don’t take my word for it. Jeff Bezos believes this.

CONCLUSION.

If you believe I have made the case that we humans are hybrid learners; wired to play games, ask questions, tell stories and recall facts and patterns as the four main drivers of learning, you probably have questions about our schools. I have two, and one solution.

First: Does it make any sense that your schools mandate that your children must learn through only one of the four hybrid ways they are wired to learn: fact recall? Just filling their lamp without setting it alight!

Answer: Teaching to the tests makes no sense. The results are clear: 54% of high school students and 70% of teachers are psychologically disengaged. That’s a $200 billion non-performing asset on the US balance sheet.

Second: How can we right this wrong?

Answer: Hybrid teaching incorporating Ed-tech makes eminent sense. If we synthesize traditional teaching methods with Edtech the result is true Blended learning. And this is the only way to future-proof our digital natives.

But there’s a caveat. If this blended approach is deployed solely with the goal of continuing the current state-mandated emphasis on fact recall and pattern recognition skills, we are still suppressing three out of four learning skills all children inherently deploy; and missing a great investment opportunity: our children’s future.

SOCRATOTLE© is designed to be the Gamified User Interface to all forms of learning. The teacher is the tutor guiding the students with the help of the game. The game and the tutor and the students collaborate to ask and answer questions. They use existing facts, uncover new information and synthesize both into an authentic outcome – a story to be shared.

At the same time the students are honing the four essential 21st century skills they will need to prosper: Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Problem-solving and Communications.

teacher and student in front of a computer

“We have to be realistic no one is going to hire or promote you because of what you know. Google already knows everything, or soon will.” Bernard Schindlhozler, V.P. Google.

The inference? You will get the job and keep it only if you know how find things out your employer needs to know.

Alex Terego

Alex Terego

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